NY Launches Initiative to Root Out Housing Discrimination

Last week, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a series of initiatives to beef up enforcement of the state’s fair housing law. These initiatives are the latest aggressive actions to protect the state’s most vulnerable individuals from illegal housing practices, according to the announcement. These efforts include:

Fair Housing Enforcement Program: To uncover discrimination in home rental and sale transactions, the state has partnered with three fair housing agencies: Housing Opportunities Made Equal in Buffalo; CNY Fair Housing in Syracuse; and Westchester Residential Opportunities in Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties. Under the new program, trained fair housing “testers” will act as potential renters or home seekers and will test for discriminatory bias among sellers and landlords. Testers include people with diverse racial, gender, and economic backgrounds as well as parents and persons with disabilities. Working in teams, testers will present similar incomes and career profiles to real estate agents, landlords, and owners in an effort to obtain housing to determine how they are treated.  When possible discrimination is uncovered, it will be investigated and prosecuted.

Regulations to Strengthen Enforcement Against Housing Discrimination: State officials have been directed to propose new regulations to clarify that state fair housing law bans discrimination against individuals because of their relationship or association with members of a protected class. In addition, the proposed regulations would allow for the revocation of the license of any real estate broker or salesperson found to have engaged in discriminatory conduct by any city, state, or federal agency or court of competent jurisdiction.

Complaints Resolved on Behalf of Victims of Housing Discrimination: The governor also released findings from 123 housing complaints filed with the state in 2015, resulting in settlements for individuals who allegedly experienced housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, disability, and familial status. Under the settlements, individuals recovered monetary payments and other benefits, such as rent abatements, rent payment reductions, improved housing conditions, and reasonable modifications such as ramps and accessible entrances for individuals with disabilities.

“The simple, painful truth is that for all our progress in creating a better society, discrimination is still alive and well in America today. We will not stand for it in New York,” the governor said in a statement. “These actions will hold housing providers accountable—we will not hesitate to crack down on those who break the law. We will do everything we can to root out discrimination where it shows its ugly presence in order to create stronger and more inclusive communities statewide.”